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STRATEGY

How to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Do you need to take your business into uncharted territory to accelerate growth? Here are four areas of expansion to consider.

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Some companies can successfully serve a niche market for years. Many others, however, will need to explore new markets, new customers, new products, or new competencies at some point to continue their growth path.

Entering a new market requires the same level of careful planning, adequate investment, effective strategy, and execution that you dedicated to building the original business. Here are four areas in which your business can expand--and the approach you need to successfully execute in each. 

1. New Geographies

For many companies, the best way to accelerate growth is to bring a core product to new territories. Although using a proven product or service might seem like the safest path to expansion, this approach does come with significant risk. Entering a new part of the country or the globe requires in-depth knowledge around market dynamics in the new territory. This includes information about competitors, potential customers, projected market growth, the regulatory environment, and political factors--among others. Investing the appropriate resources (both time and money) to gather relevant intelligence before choosing a new market is critical to mitigating your risk.

2. New Products or Services

Diversifying your portfolio of products and services spreads risk across the business instead of concentrating it on one or two core offerings. A great example of a company that's succeeded in this area is Starbucks. The company that started as a local coffee-bean roaster and retailer experienced rapid growth in the 1990s, expanding to 61 countries. This growth came to a halt in the late 2000s, however, requiring Starbucks to close hundreds of underperforming stores and eliminate thousands of jobs.

Facing stagnant growth, Starbucks changed its strategy. Rather than sell more of the same product at more stores, it began selling more products at fewer stores. By translating the core business (coffeehouses) into a range of products (instant coffee, at-home brewing machines, bottled beverages, ice cream, and beyond), Starbucks has been able to reduce risk and bounce back from its low point during the recession.

3. New Customer Groups

Similar to diversifying a product portfolio, businesses can use their core competencies to expand to new customer segments. The Gap serves as a great example. Beginning as an affordable-clothing retailer for middle-class adults, the Gap has since expanded organically to GapKids, babyGap, and GapBody and created four additional brands targeting different segments: Banana Republic for more affluent professionals, Old Navy for teenagers, Piperlime for the fashion-conscious, and Athleta for active women. More recently, the company expanded into the luxury market through the acquisition of Intermix. A key element of its expansion: using a single e-commerce platform to serve all its customer segments.

4. New Competencies

Solving new problems for existing customers can lead to upselling and cross-selling opportunities, but it often requires new skills and expertise. One of our clients, a traditional security provider, wanted to expand into an emerging, sophisticated security market at the enterprise level. This was outside of the client's "comfort zone"--historically, its offerings were less sophisticated. So it acquired a security-integration-software company, then used its existing book of business, security monitoring infrastructure, and sales channels to expand its offerings to customers and shorten time to market.

Deciding whether to expand via any of these avenues requires a clear understanding of your customers' needs and the dynamics of the market you wish to enter. But leaving your comfort zone can often lead to accelerated growth for your business.

Please send us your thoughts at Karlandbill@avondalestrategicpartners.com

Associate Lindsay Comstock contributed to this article.

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Feb 8, 2013

KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree.
@karlstark




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